RSPB Saltholme, by @Keith_M_Photo

I’m something of a bird-watching enthusiast and so can often be found thinking about visiting my local reserve, RSPB Saltholme. You can imagine, therefore, my alarm and surprise to discover that the RSPB had recently approved the building of a gas turbine power station on land immediately adjacent to such precious habitat – cherished as it is by spoonbills, avocets and black-tailed godwits as their safe space within which to be beautiful. Angrily, I sought out the RSPB’s own announcement, in order to read the following explanation, found strutting under the headline: ‘Why aren’t the RSPB fighting this development and what exactly is being proposed?’

“As the UK continues the transition towards a low carbon economy, renewable energy is ever more prominent as the lowest cost, cleanest form of electricity generation. But with a higher proportion of our energy sourced from renewables, it is becoming increasingly challenging to balance the UK grid and keep the lights on, particularly when there is little wind or during times of peak demand.

During the transition period of starting to use more renewable energy  there will be periods when there is a gap in the supply and demand, typically at peak evening and morning activity times.

Currently, this extra demand is supplied by large gas turbine power stations running at low load, which when used like this are very inefficient and have a relatively high carbon footprint as they take a long time to start and stop when the extra electricity may only be needed for a very short time. In contrast, modern, gas reciprocating engines like the ones proposed at Saltholme, are far more efficient and produce a lot less carbon as they can be started and stopped very quickly.  It has been estimated that using one of these peaking plants to provide the peak demand cover in place of a big gas turbine power station could cut carbon emissions by the equivalent of 10,000 cars annually.

Although the RSPB is fundamentally against the further use of fossil fuels for providing our country’s base load electricity generation, this type of facility could actually help reduce carbon emissions during the period of transition towards a true low carbon, renewable energy economy by reducing the amount of gas used by large inefficient powerplants designed to be running at full power being used as a stop start backup.”

Upon reading this, I felt ashamed. How could I have possibly doubted the motives of that most wonderful organization, the RSPB? Having put its not inconsiderable political support behind the building of the massive, off-shore, migrating-bird-macerating windfarms decorating the Northeast Coast, what better idea but to build a teensy-weensy gas turbine station on the doorstep of the sanctuary provided for the migratory survivors? After all, by not approving a big powerplant, they have saved so much carbon! And let us not forget, it will only be needed when the wind turbines are not actively flicking the birds out of the sky. Sounds like a win-win to me.

16 Comments

  1. It sounds as shallow and false as the rationalizations used to build a mega-sized wind farm next to the only winter habitat for the main Whooping Crane habitat. Which happens to be next to Corpus Christi, Texas. The center of the cheapest and most plentiful natural gas supplies in the nation.
    These climate fools will destroy the world to save it.
    How much “donation” was given to the Royal Society to justify this bit of intellectual gymnastics?

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  2. Statera: green energy ideologues getting very rich by making energy very expensive so that the UK government can virtue-signal its green credentials to the rest of the world by transitioning to a zero carbon economy.
    Birds don’t matter. Bats don’t matter. People don’t matter.
    https://stateraenergy.co.uk/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the link Jaime. Reading Statera’s claims to performing ecological due diligence, I am reminded of my involvement with Banks Renewables, when they proposed to build three massive wind turbines on the outskirts of the Yorkshire market town within which I live. They too boasted all sorts of safeguards and procedures to ensure that the impact of the turbines would be acceptable to all. Despite objections from the North Yorkshire National Park, local MPs and a hastily organized local action group, Banks remained happy that they had done all that was required of them and that the scheme enjoyed the overwhelming support of the locals. Their claims for support were based upon a sampling of opinion. The sampling process ran as follows:

    a) Hold a consultation meeting in the local town hall but advertise the meeting only two days beforehand and choose only to advertise it in the free paper distributed to the town next door.

    b) Hold the meeting during a workday, when only unwitting retired folk seeking shelter from the cold happened to attend. (I know this because I was one of the old fogeys who happened to drop in).

    c) Invite feedback, by email, only from the very few who accidentally turned up to the ill-attended meeting.

    d) Take the 24 responses (yes, 24 responses) thus solicited and perform a statistical analysis on them to draw conclusions regarding the opinions of the broader community affected (some 15, 000 inhabitants).

    In the end, 12 were against it and 12 others (beguiled by what that nice young man had to say) were for it.

    I wrote a letter to the Banks project manager pointing out how wholly inappropriate it was to draw conclusions on such a pathetically inadequate sample, contrived in such an inept way. I pointed out that basic sampling theory meant that either confidence levels or precision levels would have to suffer with such a low sample. So, for example, if he wanted to draw a conclusion with a 99% confidence level, it could only be that between 20-80% of the population supported the scheme, i.e. next to nothing meaningful could be concluded with any confidence. He responded by denying that his claims for support constituted a conclusion! I decided not to waste any further time on him.

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the ‘perfect site’ suddenly became unviable as soon as the government withdrew its subsidies. Banks Renewables pulled out of the project, apologising profusely to the jubilant locals for having failed to deliver the wind farm that they had so desperately wanted on their doorstep.

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  4. … In contrast, modern, gas reciprocating engines like the ones proposed at Saltholme, are far more efficient and produce a lot less carbon as they can be started and stopped very quickly. …

    I note the word “reciprocating”. Does this mean it’s going to be sparked diesel instead of a turbine?

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  5. That’s a good selection of photographs Paul. I particularly like the second one since it is very similar to one I took myself of the offending wind farm. As can be seen from that photo, the wind farm is discreetly positioned off shore, but on a clear day can still be seen by the good folk of Redcar!

    Meanwhile, as far as the location of the proposed power station is concerned, it is noise pollution that constitutes the major concern, both during construction and operation. This is a concern for local residents as well as the wildlife on the reserve. Stratera, don’t seem to think this is a problem, nor do they have any problem increasing the projected noise levels even after the project has received planning permission! Note the following article:

    https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/saltholme-power-stations-too-noisy-16070898

    In particular, note what the MP for Stockton North has said regarding Stratera:

    “Stratera Energy Limited, who I understand are the company behind Saltholme Power Limited, already have a track record of applying for one thing, changing their minds, achieving planning permission and then changing their minds again. Sadly they seem to think they can demand changes to their planning permission and ride roughshod over objections from the local community, who were until now, tolerant of the original proposal.”

    These are the games these companies play.

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  6. John, I also noticed two more blots on the landscape, right on the edge of the NYM National Park. You are probably aware of these. One was called “Lockwood site” and the other “Woodsmith site”. Many lorries and cranes. Googling shows that they are going to be new mines, for potash, and that there were various unsuccessful objections.

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  7. Yes, the proposed potash mining has been something of a local hot potato, particularly with respect to the Woodsmith site. I am more familiar with the Lockwood site since it is adjacent to the main Teesside to Whitby road, just opposite another bird watchers’ favourite location, Lockwood Beck. I have to say though, the company concerned has had to accept a number of significant concessions before permission was granted, not the least of which was the digging of a 23 mile long tunnel to transport the potash to Teesside, rather than use an over-ground means of transportation. It’s an impressive undertaking.

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  8. I am rather pleased objections were unsuccessful. Some years ago I was employed as a consultant to give my advice about the potash strata that would be exploited in new mines sited on the North York Moors National Park. Plans were to exploit beds of polyhalite (a complex magnesium calcium.and potassium sulphate) rather than the potassium chloride of the existing Yorkshire potash mine.) These potash salts only occur in this area of Yorkshire, nowhere else in the UK. The only comparable european locations are in the Kalinograd enclave of Russia which is deemed politically “unsuitable”. The total reserves in Yorkshire are extremely large and valuable.
    It was quite some years ago when I was involved and knew about the mine proposal. I was very impressed. Only the top of the winding gear was to be visible, all of the buildings and workings were to be within a shallow cavern (so out of sight) and the material to be removed was to be transported to a transport-ship dock (the polyhalite) or disposed of at sea (unwanted rocksalt) carried there by an underground railway. So impressed was I that I urged the developers to widely publish their plans in trade magazines as an example of a near invisible mine. Instead plans were temporarily abandoned (I believe a new mine in Thailand altered world supply) and I learned no more. If the original plans have been resumed, I am very pleased. It shows that with careful, sensitive planning a mine can be located within a National Park almost out of sight after the build.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Alan,

    Yes, I think it speaks volumes for the value of the potash that the company concerned would commit to building a tunnel for transportation rather than risk rejection of the proposal on environmental grounds.

    Getting back to the Redcar wind farm, you will note from the following article that those responsible had not been entirely indifferent to the plight of the locals and wildlife:

    https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/local-news/redcar-offshore-wind-farm-piling-3675676

    Nevertheless, you will also not the same level of kidology that I personally encountered with Banks Renewables. On the one hand, the project manager responsible for the Redcar Wind Farm said at the time of the proposal:

    “Local reaction has been generally very positive. Some people don’t like them and you’ll never appease them, but in general it’s been favourable.”

    On the other hand 6,500 locals signed a petition in futile opposition!

    Also, Paul, myself and the vast majority of the local residents might find the wind farm ugly, but those that proposed it genuinely thought it would be a tourist attraction and greatly boost the local economy. More kidology, I suspect.

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  10. John
    Scoby Sands Wind Farm immediately offshore Great Yarmouth is treated as a tourist attraction with an explanatory booth on the sea front with customary seaside telescopes. Was of interest when being built, but now largely ignored: rotor blades either still or endlessly turning so so slowly, endlessly boooriiing. Now if one of the nacelles were to act up….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Alan,

    Thanks for the information regarding the Scoby Sands wind farm. It is indeed a mystery how these people can decide what is, and what is not, likely to serve as a tourist attraction. Some years ago, the Labour council in Redcar determined itself to spend squidillions to turn Redcar into the tourist mecca of the northern hemisphere. So they asked the locals what they thought Redcar would benefit the most from. The answer given was unequivocal: “Give us a pier please”. So the council did. They built a tower and called it a “vertical pier”. The Labour council leader who pushed it through wanted it to be known as “The Dunning Tower” to commemorate his glory, but this was over-ruled.

    But was it a tourist magnet? We will never know. Just to make sure the statistics worked, the council moved the public toilets into the tower’s ground floor and counted everyone taking a slash as one of Dunning’s pilgrims. The curious may wish to google ‘Redcar Beacon’ to see images of the only construction on the Northeast Coast that actually makes the wind farms look pretty.

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  12. Appending a comment here, much belatedly, on the story of the puffin, the sand eel, and climate change.

    The story goes like this. Puffins are stubby little cute things. They eat tiny fish called sand eels. The eels are declining owing to climate change. Climate is changing because human civilisation is emitting more CO2 than the Earth can handle. Because of this, we’re really worried about the puffins and we have to change our ways.

    Of course you would not be surprised to find that there is more to this than meets the eye. It is probably true that should sand eels decline for any reason, then puffins will suffer. (Puffins do not always major on sand eels, and this varies by location and time of the year.) The puffin is an iconic bird. It’s one of three on the cover of my copy of Peterson (the other two are a hoopoe and a lapwing).

    The first question I suppose is, are sand eels threatened by climate change? JNCC thinks so, & they are not alone. [Note: puffins are also said to be at threat from increased storminess; a “wreck” a few years back was blamed on climate change. Nevertheless, there is a long history of wrecks; but I can’t definitively say that climate change won’t cause more storminess.]

    In the other thread Vinnie mentioned a paper by Wanless in 2004. (For someone I presume is not an ecologist to pluck a memory of this paper out of the ether is impressive.) My memory of Wanless et al 2004 is that it made quite a stir at the time, and that I didn’t believe the results (my memory may be faulty; I certainly didn’t believe the results). Wanless et al measured the lengths of innumerable sand eels at a sand bank call Wee Bankie off the Firth of Forth (relevant to foraging by the Isle of May puffin colony). They had data from ’73 to ’02, and over that time the average length of a sand eel had declined by 20%. In terms of mass and therefore nutritive quality for a chick, this decline was larger.

    A fishery started in the area in 1990 and persisted until 2000, when it was curtailed over fears for the puffins. But according to Wanless et al, this was not the cause of the decline, which was more likely due to environmental factors. To give them credit, Wanless et al did not pin the blame directly on warmer water, as has been done since. Indeed they mentioned that sand eels might shrink if the water was too warm or too cold.

    Simply increasing temperature could not by itself shrink the sand eels. Fish are dependent on the temperature of the water for activity and metabolic levels. If the water gets a little warmer, sand eels grow faster, not slower… so long as there is enough prey to go around.

    So now we have to rewind to Fromentin & Planque 1996 where it was noted that one of the key prey items of the sand eel is affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation. This beast is a planktonic copepod called Calanus. There are two very similar species in the North Sea (I think there is a third species found further north). Calanus finmarchicus is more abundant when the NAO is in its negative phase, and Calanus helgolandicus is more abundant when the NAO is positive. When the NAO is positive, there are more westerlies. The surface of the sea is more mixed. The spring plankton bloom is delayed. This favours helgolandicus because its reproductive timing is later. This may also explain why helgolandicus is less nutritious prey for sand eel larvae.

    So the picture is now: carbon dioxide goes up. NAO trends positive. Plankton bloom delayed. Less nutritious species of zooplankton dominates the community. Sand eel larvae perform less well. Young sand eels settling into the sand are smaller, and don’t catch up. Puffins have to catch more sand eels to feed their chicks. We’re still worried about the puffins.

    What happened next? To their eternal credit, Wanless and colleagues kept collecting data on sand eel lengths. And after a couple more years of continued shrinkage, the trend reversed and the eels started to grow again (although average sizes are not yet back to 1970s levels).

    I was not inclined to believe the NAO story. There was another rather obvious potential driver of sand eel shrinkage: fishing. The North Sea sand eel fishery has risen from nothing in the 1950s to levels of up to a million tonnes in some recent years. Such a cull does not just affect population size. It also exerts selection pressure: the biggest predator is now the net. Thus if an eel waits too long to reproduce, or until it has reached a certain size, there is now a better chance that it will never reproduce at all – it’ll be in someone’s fish cake. And while the local fishery lasted only from 1990 to 2000, a species with planktonic larvae has its genes “sieved” over a much larger area. Fishing pushes reproduction to happen earlier at smaller sizes. And as you might expect, fishing at this scale has also reduced the spawning biomass of sand eels. This happens a lot with fisheries. Fish stocks are treated as infinite, since most (bony) fish have very small eggs and lots of them. Then at some point recruitment falls.

    What is normal? We hear a lot of doom and gloom about puffins. And compared to the pristine world before human civilisation, they are obviously less common. But you don’t have to go back too far to find times when they were less common than now. The Isle of May was mentioned above. In the first half of the twentieth century it had a handful of breeding puffins. That number is now about 40,000 “apparently occupied burrows.” They were helped by a cull of 30,000 gulls in the 1970s (it couldn’t happen now). But my own suspicion is that the initial growth was helped by immigrants from down south. At the time grey seals, because of new protection from hunting, were thriving in the Farne Islands. Low lying puffin nests were crumbling. The soil was eroding. Those refugee puffins may have made their homes at the Isle of May.

    In historical times St Kildans, as well as using puffins to flavour their porridge, exported the feathers of tens of thousands of the poor blighters to form decorations for women’s hats. On Lundy (“puffin” in Norse) Island, rats saw to the demise of a colony, as they did on Ailsa Craig after a shipwreck (both colonies probably >100,000 pairs).

    I find it interesting that we are inclined to blame the terror of the day for all our ills. So soon we forget the carnage of the past. And conservation flips from saving animals and plants in the places they live to trying to save everything at once by cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

    At least, unlike for kittiwakes, I don’t expect wind farms to harm this particular species of bird.

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